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Traditionalists vs. Reformers?

David Brooks lines up the “Traditionalists” against the “Reformists” in the GOP and surmises the former will prevail in the short term. There are a few problems with his handiwork.

First, virtually all the players in Brooks world are pundits and talk-show hosts. These really are not the most decisive players in the future of the Republican Party. The sliver of the sliver of Republicans who know who all the names are may be amused by Brooks’s classification and even intrigued by the debates of the identified chatterers. This one has a great plan for the future. No, no it won’t work, says another, who presents his own. It all has an air of unreality. These people don’t hold office, many are unknown to the vast majority of voters, and they won’t have much influence at all (they didn’t in 2008) in selecting the 2012 nominee.

Second, Brooks has signed on to the Sarah Palin obsession, convinced that the “Traditionalists” have already decided to  “rally” around Sarah Palin as the next nominee. (He may have picked this up from George Will, another Palin critic bemoaning the same nonexistent conspiracy.)  If he can find one who really has, he should identify him. This assumption also suffers from the conviction that Palin opposes the “reform” camp. Last time I checked, her entire record in Alaska was devoted to reform.

Finally, the view espoused by Brooks is entirely Washington-centric. He declares: “Republicans from the coasts and the upper Midwest are largely gone.” Hardly. There are bunches of Republican Governors and state legislators sprinkled throughout the Midwest ( e.g. Pawlenty of Minnesota, Daniels of Indiana) and even on the coasts(e.g. Vermont, Connnecticut, Rhode Island). But in the world in which all “important” activity takes place in the DC-NY corridor such people don’t count. Pity, since they are among the most interesting and successful Republicans.

The reality is that politics is messy stuff. The Republicans who count the most –office holders, candidates and voters — aren’t checking i.d.’s (Reformer or foe? Are you one of those Traditionalists? ). They are busy, as Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is, at the difficult work of a being a legislator in a minority party, or as Palin is, returning to work on the business of her state.

The “future of the Republican Party” is not some lofty abstraction; it is what gets decided day by day by real politicians and real voters in the context of real issues.


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